Google Your Words

Real actual writing advice today!

You know how when you’re writing fantasy/science fiction/imaginary whateveritis, and you make up words? Names, little language phrases, stuff like that?

Google them.

Always, always, always Google them I am not even slightly kidding.

For example… remember the Powerpuff Girls? The clearly-made-up city of Townsville? I was born in Townsville. It’s on my birth certificate and everything. Townsville, Queensland. It’s named after the guy who financed the settlement, Robert Towns. I am not making this up, I swear. (Incidentally, it’s a hole. Don’t go there.)

The beautiful and you-should-absolutely-watch-it Studio Ghibli movie Laputa: Castle In The Sky was shortened to Castle In The Sky for US release. La puta, get it? Yeah, not so good, and never mind that it’s a perfectly innocuous name taken from Gulliver’s Travels. Make sure you’re not swearing in a language you don’t know!

Incidentally, even within the same language, dialect differences can make an innocuous statement into a filthy joke. For example, in Australia, ‘root’ is a synonym for ‘fuck’. In Canada, there is a store chain called ‘Roots’ (There’s also a ‘Roots Kids’. You can imagine our reaction). I don’t know if it’s still there, but the Outback Steakhouse used to have a dessert called the Chocolate Thunder From Down Under. I ask you, who names a dessert ‘synonym for poop’? People who don’t speak that dialect, that’s who. The dessert was not half bad, though. (Yes, of course I ordered it, how could I resist?)

Of course you should always be careful when throwing in words from languages you don’t know, we all know that. But be very, very careful about your made-up words, too. They may not be as made-up as you think, and while ‘Koorva’ may sound like a nice fantasy name, Google tells me that it’s ‘whore’ in Ukrainian.

Don’t assume that this is something editorial will pick up, or that you’ll remember to check some other time during rewrites! Getting the words right is your job, so play it safe. Google your words, guys. Every one.

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Writers, Beware

I mentioned John Scalzi the other day, and his commentary on the dastardly dealings of Random House and their e-book only imprints. He’s done multiple entries on the subject now that are very much worth reading, and being the conscientiously helpful gentleman that he is has put them all together in one post here.

As a non-published writer, my advice is clearly of limited value. I haven’t succeeded at the job myself, so why would anyone else listen to me tell them how to do it?

But this I do know, and think everyone should know. There are a lot of scams out there. As Agent Pleakley says on the subject of mosquitoes ‘Here, educate yourself‘, because there are plenty of people out there who will take advantage of you if you don’t. Don’t be put off by the fact that most of my links are genre-skewed – this stuff applies to everyone.

Once you’ve perused Writer Beware, there’s more you can do. Such as:

1. If you have a local or otherwise writer’s centre, guild, whatever, check out their website for a section like this one. They’ll usually offer at least a few words of advice. You can also contact them for help if you do get offered a contract but don’t have an agent, which is useful.

2. Read sites and blogs written by those in the industry! Not just writers, but agents and publishers. Their advice can be very helpful, and if they say something is a scam, it likely is. (But if they say something isn’t, well, do keep your critical faculties engaged. You don’t actually know this person, after all)

3. Remind yourself early and often that a bad book deal is worse than no deal at all. The harder you can hammer this into your own head, the less likely it is (I hope) that you’ll be suckered by a vanity publisher or scam artists like Hydra because they’re offering to publish you and you want it so bad.

Be wary. Swim up that stream towards publication carefully, because there’s a lot of sharp rocks on the way, and an injured salmon swims slower. Be the strong, wily salmon who avoids the sharp rocks, and reaches the spawning ground of Publication relatively unharmed!

When Planning Is A Bad Thing

Planning is in general a good idea. Planning family outings, or novels, or the weekly shopping, or means by which one may evade an unpleasant workmate is an excellent idea and makes catastrophic failure less likely.

But planning can slide over into causing failure, because it can be an excuse not to start doing the thing you’re planning. Planning a ‘perfect’ date can go on so long that you miss lots of chances for a nice regular one, and leave your significant feeling neglected. Planning a perfect dinner can take so long that you nearly pass out when your blood-sugar crashes because you were waiting too long to eat (as a certain person I know can attest). Once planning slides over into fantasizing, you may never do it at all.

And of course, planning can be absolute poison for the nervous writer. You can postpone your novel indefinitely while you do ‘essential’ research, or figure out the backstory, or wait on enough money to buy that book on Renaissance fashion that will just make the whole thing. In No Plot, No Problem, Chris Baty suggests taking a week to plan out your novel, but no longer, to keep yourself from being bogged down. This is for NaNoWriMo, of course, an exercise in on-the-fly writing if ever there was one, but I still think a limited planning window is a good idea. It could be a week, two weeks, or a month – especially if you’re doing historical and really do need to do your research – but I wouldn’t recommend going over that. You can always look stuff up as you go.

Planning is good, overplanning is bad, essentially. So I’m going to stop planning and go buy some shoes. Waiting for the perfect sale be damned, my plantar fasciitis is playing up now.

Cut Off

My friend Miranda’s internet has been cut off. She lost it for almost a week during the flooding not long ago, and this week it has gone out again. She called tech support, and was cheerfully informed that a tech would be along on Monday. She made this call on a Tuesday. So another whole week of being cut off.

I don’t know about you, but the very idea of losing my internet access gives me the heebie-jeebies. How could I write my blog? Check my Tumblr? Email friends, play Candy Crush Saga, write, and do all the other things I do daily?

Well, obviously I couldn’t. I’m just not sure I remember how to fill the day without them. Playing with the kid is good of course, and there’s stuff to do, it just… isn’t the same. And as Miranda pointed out to me, it can make writing really hard.

It’s funny how completely necessary Google has become to me when writing. What vegetables are native to Spain? What’s the average number of kittens in a litter? What fabrics would be used in seventeenth-century Italy? How does a flint-lock pistol actually work? What’s the average distance a laden horse can travel in a day? What about a wagon, how fast are those? All of those, except for the kittens, are searches I made for my last NaNoWriMo novel…. a fantasy set in Analogue-Europe. Researching a novel is a pain in the butt at the best of times – during November, going and finding a book on the history of Italian fashion takes FAR TOO LONG, especially if you only need the dress for one scene.

I know, I know, the Internet isn’t the most reliable source. But Wikipedia and its many cousins are generally reasonably accurate, which is nice, and there are lots and lots of references out there that are maintained by unpaid enthusiasts on subjects obscure enough that finding a book would be very difficult. On the other hand, finding a picture reference for seventeenth-century Spanish peasant garb only took me about twenty minutes online, and the Internet allowed me to forward this to an artist I have never met, via Deviantart, and commission a little picture of my characters as a reward to myself for finishing. The Internet is awesome, and the thought of losing it even for a little while is quite distressing.

So today I’m going over to Miranda’s house to watch Ghibli movies and cook. It’s the least I can do for a friend in need.

Here is my NaNoWriMo picture! EcoKitty does lovely cartoony commissions and I recommend them.

My protagonists, ready for action!

My protagonists, ready for action!